e-News Exclusive

Increasing Whole Grains for a Healthy Heart

By Leesha Lentz

According to the study “Association Between Whole Grain Intake and Mortality: Two Large Prospective Studies in US Men and Women,” eating whole grains may promote heart health, adding more years to your life.

Researchers from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health evaluated food frequency questionnaires from 74,341 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and 43,744 men from the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and found that eating more whole grains, in both American women and men, was associated with a 9% decreased risk in total mortality and a 15% reduction in cardiovascular disease-related mortality risk, independent of other diet and lifestyle factors. The study’s findings were reported online in JAMA Internal Medicine.

“These results add to the considerable body of scientific evidence showing the spectacular health benefits of consuming whole grains on a daily basis,” writes Janet Bond Brill, PhD, RDN, FAND, a cardiovascular nutritionist and author of the books Blood Pressure Down, How to Prevent a Second Heart Attack, and Cholesterol Down, in a January 12, 2015 blog post on DrJanet.com.

Previous studies have shown an inverse association with whole grain consumption and reduction in chronic diseases. In 2010, the same Harvard researchers published a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, reporting that by substituting brown rice for white rice, both men and women (from the same study population as above) experienced a lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Last year in the July/August issue of American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, Kristin E. Davis, RD, LD, OT/L, of the University of New Hampshire, published a report that emphasized whole grain intake and its role in reducing cholesterol. As stated in the abstract, “Whole grains confer cardioprotective benefits, and those whole grains higher in soluble, or viscous, fiber aid in the reduction of serum total cholesterol and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations.”

Now with the addition of the current study’s findings, RDs may have more reason to support whole grains as part of a heart-healthy diet that may add longevity to patients’ and clients’ lives.

What RDs Should Tell Patients
While studies have touted whole grains’ benefits, Americans often don’t get the recommended amount of whole grains per day. “Unfortunately, the average American eats less than one serving per day, and almost half of all Americans never eat whole grains at all. Younger adults tend to eat less than one serving daily,” Brill writes on her website.

According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, Americans eat enough total grains, but most of the grains consumed are refined grains. Grain consists of three main parts: the germ, endosperm, and bran. Refined grains are milled until only the endosperm remains, improving shelf life but removing some nutrients. Whole grains include all three parts.

Brill suggests that one of the most exciting findings in this research was its focus on bran and its effect on mortality. “Bran intake showed a similar inverse association of total mortality [6% reduction in risk of death] and cardiovascular disease mortality [a whopping 20% reduction in risk of death], whereas the wheat germ showed no association,” she says on her website. These study results show that whole grains enriched with bran may be an even healthier option, and further endorses less consumption of refined grains.

Some patients may need to avoid whole grains if they have celiac disease or nonceliac gluten sensitivity, but Brill stresses the need for patients to avoid gluten only if they have these issues. The Whole Grain Council states that about 1% to 2% of the US population has been diagnosed with celiac disease, and only this group should adopt a gluten-free diet. With past studies and the current research included, the rest of the population shouldn’t exclude whole grains, but instead, increase their consumption. “To extend your life and keep your heart healthy, aim to eat three servings of whole grains per day—remember, ‘three is key,’” Brill says on her website.

Brill’s website offers the following list of whole grains readily available in the supermarket: corn, whole oats/oatmeal, 100% whole wheat flour, popcorn, brown rice, whole-grain barley, wild rice, buckwheat, and quinoa.

“The bottom line? Eat whole grains, rich in bran, to live longer free of heart disease—the leading cause of death in American men and women,” Brill says in her blog post.

— Leesha Lentz is a freelance writer based in Louisville, Kentucky.